Split vs Ducted AC : Choosing the right Air Conditioner

ducted ac

CHOOSING THE RIGHT AIR CONDITIONING SYSTEM FOR YOUR HOME

With so many options for cooling your home, it can be overwhelming to determine what system makes the most sense for you.  If you’re considering purchasing an air conditioning system, among the more popular choices are ducted and split air conditioning systems. This summary provides an overview of both systems, as well as the pros and cons for each, to help you decide which system better fits your needs and budget.

A Quick Overview of Split and Ducted AC

Ducted AC

As the name implies, a ducted AC system uses ductwork in the walls and ceiling to provide air conditioning throughout the home. The main unit (the condenser) is located out of sight, typically in an attic space.

Split AC

With a split AC system, the condenser is outside the home. It applies pressure to the refrigerant, which runs through tubing that is connected to the indoor unit (the evaporator).  Many split AC systems can connect up to four indoor units to one condenser.

Each type of system has advantages and drawbacks; consider these factors to help determine which option best meets your needs.

Quick Comparison between Split and Ducted AC

FeaturesDucted ACSplit AC
Room sizeWith a zoned system, as few or as many rooms as needed can be cooledOne room is cooled with one unit
AestheticsEach room has a vent incorporated into the ceiling or wall; the ductwork and condenser are not visibleEach room requires a wall-mounted unit, and an exterior condenser; up to four interior units can be connected to a condenser
NoiseQuiet; condensers are located in remote areas of the house which insulate against most noiseInterior units are quiet; the outside unit (condenser) can be noisy
Operating the systemZoned systems have control panels in every room, or every zone; some systems allow control via a phone appMost systems come with a remote control for easy operation
AdvantagesCan be more efficient over time; adds to the value of the homeAllows air conditioning only in the rooms being used; additional units can be added as needed
LimitationsPotential leaks between ducts; ductwork need occasional cleaning (e.g. once every 3-5 yearsCooling is limited to the room in which the evaporator is installed; there can be a point of diminishing returns with the addition of multiple units
CostVaries based on size of the house and individual needs; estimate a starting cost around $10,000Varies based on the size of the room and how many units are desired; estimate a starting cost of $2,000 for a single unit

Detailed Comparison between Split and Ducted AC

Size of rooms to be air conditioned

Split systems make sense for smaller spaces, or for a space that has been added on to a home but cannot tie into an existing system because the system is already taxed, or the location doesn’t allow it. It might also be an option for rental units where a retrofit is not feasible.

split ac in small room

Ducted systems can cool an entire home, or they can be zoned to cool only certain rooms as need, adding to energy efficiency and cost effectiveness.  If you are building a new home or retrofitting a home, a ducted system could be a good choice because the space required for the ducting can be included in the design plans.

Efficiency

Split systems allow you to cool only those rooms that you select.  Because these systems are designed to cool individual rooms versus entire homes, even with multiple units, the overall space would not be uniformly cooled even if every room had an indoor unit. Additional units require additional power, so at some point there likely would be a point of diminished returns in terms of cost and energy efficiency.

Critics of ducted system often cite leaks between ducts as an inefficiency to this option. This can be avoided through professional installation and regular maintenance; further, any leaks between ducts still provide air conditioning within the home. Cooling the whole home when only a portion is being used is another consideration, though zoned systems address this by providing control over which rooms are cooled at a given time.

Noise

Both systems are quiet. Because the condenser is located outside with a split AC system there is little noise indoors, though neighbors might hear it running if housing units are in near proximity to one another. Similarly, the attic absorbs much of the sound of the condenser for a ducted system.

Convenience and flexibility

Split systems offer a good deal of flexibility. They are smaller and more flexible in terms of installation. Indoor units can be mounted on the wall or ceiling (though a ceiling mount can be used only in a single installation). They are programmable and easy to operate, with many systems providing remote control options for convenience in operation. While each room to be cooled requires its own unit, you could start with one unit and add additional units at a later time.

Installing a ducted system requires planning and enough space for the ductwork. Once installed, little effort is required to operate the system. The system is typically controlled via panels at various locations in the home, though some manufacturers offer remote access via a phone app. Like split systems, ducted systems also can be programmed.

Aesthetics

Although they have a trim profile, some may find the appearance of a split system evaporator obtrusive. Units vary in size, but even a small unit would be visibly apparent, as would the accompanying conduit. Similarly, while the outdoor condensers might be positioned to blend with landscaping for a first-floor unit, additional shrubs or screens may be desired for aesthetic reasons. If the home is in a multiple dwelling building, the condenser would likely be attached to the side of the building, which may be visually undesirable for some neighbors or homeowners’ associations.

Ducted systems are virtually invisible in the home, with only the vents showing in each room.

ducted ac in big room

Cost

Several variables contribute to the cost to AC installation air conditioning, including the size of the space, size of the unit(s), frequency of use, comfort level, and so on.  Broadly speaking, split systems can start in the range of $2000 for a single installation.  A new, ducted system will start closer to $10,000. These initial costs should be balanced with long-term goals. For example, a home with an existing ducted system adds to value of a home sale, whereas the aesthetics and effectiveness of a split system may not match the needs of a new homeowner taking over an existing space.

Value

The initial purchase and installation price of a split system is lower than having to install a ductless system. Also, because individual units can be added as needed, this option may be beneficial if budget is a driving force.

While the purchase and installation costs are higher than for a split system, ducted systems operate more efficiently. As such, if you are planning on staying in the home for a long time, this can be the more cost effective option over time. Ducted systems also add value to the sale price of a home.

A Few Other Considerations

Understanding your needs:

Both systems should be professionally installed. It is also important to get the right size system for your needs, regardless of which type of system you use. BTU’s (British thermal units) indicate how much power an AC unit provides, so you will need to measure your space to determine how many BTU’s your space will require.

In determining your need, also consider the rooms and their use. You may need to add to your estimated need if the room is, or is near a kitchen, or if sun shines in the house for a good part of the day as these things add to the level of heat in that room.

Because everyone has different requirements, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to what type of system you should purchase. Consider your needs and budgets, and what you are looking for in terms of cooling.

At Anrac, we focus exclusively on air-conditioning systems. Our professional staff and installers are experts in the field, and can help you assess your individual needs and select a system that is right for you. Stop by and see us, and we’ll be happy to show you how each of these systems works and answer any questions you may have.  Good luck, and stay cool!